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ARC building avoids wrecking ball

By Craig Smith
Sunday, November 4, 2007

Two community groups have saved a North Side building from the wrecking ball by asking a city commission to decide if the structure qualifies as historically significant.

The Historic Review Commission of Pittsburgh will hold a hearing Wednesday on whether the former Alcohol Recovery Center House at 800 East Ohio St. should be protected as a historical structure.

“We’re interested in saving the building,” said Mike Coleman, president of the Allegheny City Society, which made the request along with the East Allegheny Community Council.

The request puts plans to raze the structure on hold — at least temporarily. Members of the community groups acknowledge this is a last-ditch effort.

“Right now, we’re reacting. We had to. Once the (demolition) permit is issued, it’s gone,” Coleman said.

Developer Lou Lamana’s company, Bentley Commercial Inc., bought the building for $266,000 earlier this month at a sheriff’s sale. The company planned to demolish it to make way for a $5 million retail development.

Lamana has constructed stores at Pittsburgh Mills mall in Frazer and Center Pointe and Stone Quarry Commons, in Center in Beaver County. He did not return calls seeking comment. He had hoped to begin demolition within four to six months.

To be designated historically significant by the commission, the building must meet at least one of 10 criteria, such as being the site of a historic event or connected with someone who had an impact on the city, state or U.S. history, said Katherine Molnar, historic preservation planner for the city.

The ARC building was built in 1901 to house the Workingman’s Savings Bank & Trust Co., according to the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation. Mellon Bank operated a branch office there until selling the building to the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, according to documents at Carnegie Library.

The diocese sold the brick building to Charles Cain for $1 in 1987. Cain operated the alcohol recovery program that at one point housed more than 100 inmates on work release. In its heyday, the ARC House held about 150 prisoners assigned there by county judges.

The application for the historical designation — filed nine days after the sheriff’s sale — states that a 1920 addition to the building was worked on by an engineer and architect from the office of D.H. Burnham. An architect and urban planner, Burnham designed the Frick and Oliver buildings in Pittsburgh, the Flatiron Building in New York and Union Station in Washington, D.C.

The process to determine if the building is historically significant could take up to eight months. If the historic commission approves the structure as historically significant, approval also would be needed from the city Planning Commission and City Council, Molnar said.

During that time, no demolition work can occur, she said.

Craig Smith can be reached at or 412-380-5646.

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

100 West Station Square Drive, Suite 450

Pittsburgh, PA 15219

Phone: 412-471-5808  |  Fax: 412-471-1633